Aaron Hernandez found dead in his cell.

Today his former team, the New England Patriots, visited the White House to be feted for their victory in Super Bowl 51. He might have been with his teammates today, instead of alone and hopeless. Five years ago, Aaron Hernandez was a star, and signed a contract extension on August 27, 2012. According to ESPN, “A league source said the extension is for five years and includes a $12.5 million signing bonus, $16 million in guaranteed money, and a maximum value of $40 million in additional money.

“Hernandez, appearing at the Patriots’ annual Charitable Foundation Kickoff Gala in the Putnam Club at Gillette Stadium on Monday night, was clearly thrilled and emotional about the contract extension. ‘I knew it was coming, just cause, when Gronk (Rob Gronkowski) got it, I knew there was a good chance I was next in line,’ he said. ‘Now that it happened, it’s definitely a blessing, and take it in, I’m excited to go on with my life. As soon as we started talking about contracts, I was emotional from that day on,’ he continued. ‘Honestly, it’s hard for me here (at the gala) to stay, keeping my mind off it, and it’s just, like I said, it’s surreal. Probably when I’m done with this conversation I’ll get some tears in my eyes. But it’s real, and it’s an honor.’

“Upon agreeing to the extension, Hernandez made a charitable gesture that Patriots owner Robert Kraft appreciated. ‘One of the touching moments since I’ve known the team — knowing that this is our charitable gala tonight — Aaron came into my office, a little teary-eyed and presented me with a check for $50,000 to go to Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund,’ Kraft said. ‘I said ‘Aaron, you don’t have to do this, you’ve already got your contract.’ And he said ‘No, it makes me feel good and I want to do it.’

“To Kraft, Hernandez’s donation reflected the organization’s desire to have players give back after receiving financial security by playing in the NFL. ‘That made me feel good because part of the thing that we learned early on is that we have a lot of young men who come into this business, and they come from humble financial homes, and part of what we try to do is make them understand is that there is a psychic income involved in giving back both your time and your financial resources, if you can do that,’ he said.”

It was not as if Mr. Hernandez didn’t have positive influences in his life, or confusion about right or wrong. He played college ball for Urban Meyer, with whom he would read the Bible many mornings.  His quarterback in college was Tim Tebow. From a USA Today story: “Tim Tebow attempted to keep Aaron Hernandez out of trouble during a 2007 bar squabble while both were playing at the University of Florida, but not even the mild-mannered, Bible-toting quarterback could keep the hot-headed tight end from slugging a Gainesville, Fla., restaurant manager and puncturing his ear drum. Still, after Tebow’s efforts failed, it appears the school or football program might have gotten Hernandez off the hook by reaching a settlement with the manager to keep him from pursuing charges, according to a supplemental investigation report on the altercation obtained by USA TODAY Sports.”

His quarterback with the Patriots was Tom Brady. This write up appears on a NESN website: “After a 2011 game in Denver, the two star quarterbacks spent a few moments chatting about the game and even talking about two of Tebow’s teammates at the University of Florida in Hernandez and linebacker Brandon Spikes. In the encounter, Brady and Tebow exchange some pleasantries before briefly chatting about the two Patriots players.

Brady: “Good game, Tim. You’re having a great year.” Tebow: “Thanks. I appreciate it.” Brady: “Keep it up. Good things happen to good people. Tebow: “I appreciate that.”
Brady: “And I’m trying to watch over Aaron and Brandon.”  Tebow: “I appreciate that, too, man. They’re good guys.” Brady: “[Yeah] they’re a lot to handle.” So, aside from Tebow’s clear “appreciation” for just about anything and everything Brady says, it’s interesting to hear Brady not only mention that he was watching over Hernandez but also noting that he and Spikes were a handful. That’s not to say they were necessarily difficult to handle or even a problem, but the comment does seem to carry much more weight now given Hernandez’s murder charge.”

It seems some men who could have been great mentors to Hernandez believed in him, and made an effort to steer him on the right path. But they were not the people whom he chose to be influenced by. He sought the company of drug dealers and petty criminals when he wasn’t with his positive influences. I am sure much will be written about his wasted promise. I read that he wrote John 3:16 on his forehead with a marker before hanging himself. Life is full of uncertainty and contradictions, and Aaron Hernandez’s life was among the most contradictory of all.

Four days ago when I first wrote the above there was even speculation that he was murdered. Today I read that other prisoners knew he was planning to kill himself weeks before he did, as he started giving away everything he had and began coating the floor of his cell with soap, so that if he lost his nerve while hanging he wouldn’t be able to get a grip on the floor. The whole thing is just sad.

A river is declared a person.

On March 15, 2017, the Parliament of New Zealand passed a law officially recognizing the “legal personhood” of the Whanganui River. whanganui. What does that mean? It means, among other things, the river “can be represented in legal proceedings.” I am not making this up. Here is what Time Magazine had to say:

“In what’s believed to be a world first, New Zealand’s government has granted a river the same rights as a living person. The Whanganui River, considered part of the living landscape by the indigenous Whanganui Iwi people associated with it, has been granted legal personhood under a parliamentary bill, reports local news service Newshub. Two representatives from the local indigenous community — one appointed by the government, another elected by the community — will be entrusted with acting in the river’s interests.

“I know some people will say it’s pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality,” Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson said, according to Newshub. “But it’s no stranger than family trusts, or companies, or incorporated societies.”

There are already natural resources that are protected by legal mechanisms, such as trusts established by the Nature Conservancy. I am in favor of such protection. However, using well established legal structures to protect something seems to me to be substantially different from declaring that the resource itself is a legal person. Is that how the law reads? It appears that the law actually does confer a type of personhood on the river, in that it recognizes the relationship that the Whanganui Iwi tribe (Maori) has had with Te Awa Tupua (the Maori name for the river). That Maori tribe began a lawsuit to have the river recognized as an “ancestor” 140 years ago, and this legislation apparently does that.

So another precedent has been set. I don’t mean just the precedent of declaring a river a person. Similar precedents, in principle rather than content, are laws or regulations declaring gender to be a matter of personal preference rather than biology and marriage a union of whomever or whatever rather than between man and woman. This legislation is only the most spectacular example to date of the dominant principle of postmodernism, which is emotions and preferences trump objective reality.

Actually, the river legislation seems less egregious to me than the gender and marriage applications of that principle, because the Maori have held on to their beliefs about their oneness with the river for a long time, and as a spiritual principle it doesn’t need to jibe with the river’s biology. Within the context of how the tribe lives and believes, their oneness with the river reflects how they thrive in their environment and doesn’t harm others. While I believe there is much about this material world that none of us know, the Bible does have some words about those who worship the creations rather than the Creator.

 I cannot give any validation to those other applications of the principle, especially as it is applied to “transgender dysphoria” (we’ll call it TD for brevity), the new category of psychological confusion about what gender a person is or thinks they are. Imagine if you thought you had a disease, and decided to self diagnose it and self treat it. If you thought you needed surgery for it or drugs to treat it, would you expect to be able to get all that on your own recognizance? Of course not. But in the case of TD, a confused youth (and what youth is not confused about much?) can get life altering surgery and drugs for a psychological condition that is often temporary and self reported. For a look at what happens to some of those unfortunate people, check out the latest issue of World Magazine.worldmag

This post is REALLY about something more significant than giving a river legal rights. Too many people get upset and distracted by the content of a controversy, while missing the more insidious nature of the principle that is being espoused! 

Willie Parker: “Christian” reproductive “justice advocate” and abortion provider, apostle for self-deception.

This post is not primarily about abortion, but rather about how a compassionate and intelligent human being can be so self-deceived that his compassion can provide cover for acts of evil, while believing he is really doing good. Even more, this is about the human mechanisms of self deception. How many of these do you fall into? Willie Parker’s quotes are taken from an interview he gave to a magazine called Jezebel (how appropriate is that!). There is so much to tackle here that I will intersperse my comments in italics with his quotes.

“It was not lost on me, an African-American man from Birmingham, Alabama, descended from slaves, that new legislation aimed at telling women what they might and might not do with their own physical bodies looked a whole lot like men owning women’s bodies,” he writes in his memoir. Parker then “decided to exercise Christian compassion not by proxy but with my own capable hands.” One of the foundations of self deception is personalization of non equivalent situations. He is saying that legislation removing government funding for women to kill their babies is the same as enslaving women, which is really an extension of the slavery his ancestors experienced. There is so much wrong with that argument I would need pages to deal with it all, so I will address only the most glaring error in the next paragraph.

Notice the next mechanism of deception, false framing. He is saying the issue is what a woman “can do with her own physical body”, but the truth is that once a woman is pregnant, the changes start occurring in her body make it clear there is also another body involved. Which body is initiating those hormonal changes, the mother’s or the baby’s? Since the presence of a baby is responsible for the hormonal changes, true framing is to acknowledge that the decision to abort the baby is not just about her but about another life. To those who insist there is only the mother’s life involved, I ask you “can one body have two different blood types, be male and female simultaneously, have two unique sets of fingerprints?”

Countering those who invoke Christianity and God as their principle argument against abortion, he writes, “A pregnancy that intimates a baby is not more sacred than abortion. To Parker, what’s sacred‚ what’s most Godlike, is a woman’s agency—“the part that makes a choice.” The third mechanism of deception, and probably the most common (most people do it automatically), is nominalization, turning a verb or adverb into a noun. It is a corruption of language that allows us to avoid responsibility for an action. The nominalizations here are “abortion” and “pregnancy.” Neither is a noun, yet they are used as if they were. The correct terms are aborting and becoming pregnant. Saying “I am going to abort my fetus” carries far more responsibility than saying “I am getting an abortion.” The latter is like getting groceries.

Even worse is his saying “what’s sacred is a woman’s agency”, which is exactly the same argument the serpent in the Garden of Eden used to get Eve to eat of the fruit that God forbade. “You will be like God…”  Far be it from me to say who really is a Christian, but he is literally saying it’s good to be Godlike. Nope, God is not self deceived and we are not God, period!!! His next set of quotes is more of the same.

“If you fancy that that fetus has rights, and you call that fetus a person and a baby, I don’t agree with that from a scientific or even from a religious standpoint.” Okay then, if that “fetus” was left alone to grow, what would it become? An aarkvark? A grown up ‘product of conception?’ You don’t agree that it would become a human being? I thought you were a doctor, but thank you for showing how deeply self-deception cuts.

“But we can debate about whether or not a fetus is a person. But there’s no question that a woman is a person. And so the question is: At what point is a woman not a person? At what point does a woman lose her right to be self-governing and to have bodily integrity? Does pregnancy trump the rights of a woman to be entitled to decisions about her health and her body? Here is another example of false framing: Saying that the federal government not funding aborting is akin to declaring women non-persons. He also says, accurately, that the word ‘abortion’ is not mentioned in the Bible. While that’s true, it is also deceptive, because the Bible does explicitly say that God formed us well before we were ever born. Psalm 139, verse 13, says,

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Clearly, leaving out the word abortion does not tacitly condone that act.

He goes on to say, “It’s interesting that you would frame abortion as black genocide and allege that you care about the birth of babies while at the same time cutting off all of the vital aid that would be necessary to raise a black baby.”  Here he is contradicting his own reality. He was one  of those “black babies“, who supposedly couldn’t be raised without ‘vital aid’, whatever that was, yet this is how he describes his own history: “A colored boy from Birmingham,” Alabama, as his 1962, pre-Civil Rights Act birth certificate described him, Parker grew up in abject poverty, fourth of six children, raised by a fierce single mother. Against all of the obstacles his country stacked against poor, African-American boys and young men, he became a doctor. Parker progressively expanded the horizon of his dreams and ambitions. First, he aimed to get any education at all. Then he made it to college, summer school at Harvard, and eventually onto med school.

“I’m pro-life and I’m pro-abortion. But pro-abortion doesn’t mean the promotion of abortion. The relationship that I have with abortion is the same relationship that a cardiothoracic surgeon has with heart transplants. Cardiothoracic surgeons don’t promote heart transplants, but they want to make sure that somebody with cardiac disease can get a heart transplant if they need one. I feel the same way about women having access to abortion. Abortion’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s a biological reality. And I’m in favor of making sure that women have access to the things they need to thrive and to be healthy.” Is he really saying that women need to be allowed to kill their babies (while in the womb) in order to thrive and be healthy? What about the false equivalence between heart surgery and aborting?

Here is an example of how his self-deception gives cover to enemies of truth, some excerpts of a review of his book on Quartz: Parker’s book provides a tight moral and religious case in favor of choice. It has the potential to speak to an audience far beyond those who are pro-choice. As a doctor and as an advocate (Parker chairs Physicians for Reproductive Health), Parker debunks the myths around abortion with scientific precision and moral clarity, stripping away political interests, social prejudice and religious misconceptions to show it exactly for what it is, a medical procedure that offers women control over their own bodies. His self-deception debunks the myths? It provides a tight moral case for choice? It does neither, but rather gives cover to the same invalid arguments traditionally used to justify aborting babies. Euphemisms are another element of deception. Choice is a euphemism for you know what. So was the “final solution.” When the truth is really ugly, euphemisms are invented to make the reality more palatable. I will leave it to Dr. Parker to condemn himself as his words reveal what he really stands for:

For Parker, the moral and religious arguments against abortion are misguided at best: “The will of God,” he says, “manifests itself in human’s free will. That extends to the freedom to choose whether or not to take part in the reproductive process, a divine freedom accorded to women as it is to men, regardless of their biologies.”

Those who accuse Christianity of hypocrisy…

I love this quote from Zig Ziglar: “If a hypocrite is standing in the way of your relationship with God….the hypocrite is closer to God than you are.” Think about it positionally. But let’s face it, while it’s perfectly okay to be skeptical of the claims of Christianity (after all, a healthy skepticism can lead to investigation, and that’s good), the hypocrisy excuse isn’t about skepticism or unbelief. If hypocrisy on the part of some of the adherents to a particular belief were the reason not to believe, you couldn’t believe in anything.

Do you believe in evolution? Are there no hypocrites in that camp? Do you believe in patriotism? Are there no hypocritical patriots? How about whatever religion you claim, or atheism? Do you know any hypocrites therein? I don’t believe I have ever heard someone reject a belief system because some of the believers are hypocrites….other than in the case of Christianity.

So why apply the hypocrites excuse to Christianity when you believe all kinds of things on faith without worrying about hypocrites who espouse those beliefs? Speaking of believing things on faith, do you believe that subatomic particles–protons, neutrons, electrons–are the basic building blocks of the material world? Why? Has anyone actually seen an electron? The answer is……no. Their existence is based on the behavior of larger, visible particles. (In fact, much of science is the same thing–inferences and constructs rather than visible proof.) Research that question for yourself, then you can try to ridicule my belief (today being Easter Sunday-resurrection day) on faith that Christ rose from the dead. There were a lot more eyewitnesses to that event than have ever seen an electron! But I digress.

What is the real reason behind the hypocrisy excuse? It’s the weakest dodge there is. What would happen if you accepted the claim of Jesus Christ on your heart? The issue is what you would have to give up. Human beings in their natural state cling to their lusts. Anything that threatens the satisfaction of those lusts is the enemy. That’s certainly no problem for atheists or evolutionists, or postmodern pseudo religions. Embracing Christ means, or it should, that pleasing Him rather than self becomes the focus of life.

This is where the hypocrisy excuse comes in. Christians often fail to tame their lusts, and many do put on a false piety to try to cover up their struggles. We might be redeemed but we still fall into temptation, but when we fall we can repent and come closer to God. The cycle of temptation, falling, repentance and restoration is not hypocrisy. It is being human. Hypocrites are those who pretend they are above that cycle, but no one hated hypocrites more than Christ himself.

“I really want to understand myself….or do I?”

Years ago, when I was in training to become a master practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), we did a “self-knowledge” exercise, the implications of which were so frightening that all the students, with two exceptions (one of which was yours truly), ran for emotional cover rather than finish it. Instead of going deeper into the exercise they strayed into small talk, as if by tacit agreement.

What was so frightening to this group of explorers of the mind?The exercise was this: “Imagine an action you could physically do, but under ordinary circumstances would not want to do. Under what set of circumstances would you do it?” Every one got that far. “Under this new set of circumstances, what is something you could physically do but would not want to do?” I can’t speak to what others were thinking, but I could clearly see where this was leading. Each set of circumstances would be more extreme, more painful and coercive. Finally, I would be confronted with something I would not be willing to do under any circumstances. Or worse than that, I would realize that I was capable of doing anything that relieved the pressure.

It was this latter revelation that, in my opinion, my fellow classmates were loath to face. What if there is nothing so bad or wrong that I wouldn’t do it to save myself, or a loved one, pain or injury or death? What is my final stand? Do I even have one, or am I really a slave to expediency?

My exercise went like this: I could spit in my mother’s face, but I wouldn’t. If someone held a gun to her head and demanded that I spit in her face, I would do it. If that gun were still at her head in the next iteration of the exercise, what would I be unwilling to do? How about killing an innocent person? Would I do that to avoid my mother being shot in the head? I said I would not be willing to kill an innocent person even to save my own mother.

Now that I am married with three adult children, it becomes an even more difficult choice. What if the gun was on my wife or daughters? Would I be willing to kill an innocent person to save one of them? This kind of moral dilemma is only a dilemma if you have no comprehensive theology. What do I mean? I believe that my wife and daughters are sealed for salvation by Christ, and when they die will be with Him in heaven. That would be true regardless of how they died. If I killed an innocent person to give them more time before death, my action would show that I either don’t believe the previous sentences, or place my emotions above my moral code and belief in the goodness of God.

Without that theology, I would have no basis beyond my emotions to base such a decision on. This kind of dilemma is very popular as a plot line in movies and tv shows about terrorism or criminals. It’s been used recently on Homeland, 24 Legacy, Blacklist Redemption, Taken and more, and in all those cases the protagonist or hero opted to save their loved one. Since that was tv, they all managed to both save their loved ones and foil the bad guys. In real life, what would you do? Do you really know? Do you really want to know? Maybe not.

Why straight and narrow is a good thing…

….unless you are driving on a mountain road, in which case it might be better to take the curves. Jesus said “Enter by the narrow gate. For the way is wide and the path is easy that leads to destruction and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13.

“The way is wide and the path is easy that leads to destruction.” Jesus could have been speaking about many things, though in this case he was referring to salvation, but the words apply to any difficult decision. This is a recurring theme with me, but one that cannot be overemphasized. We human beings know this, but in our infinite capacity to rationalize the easy way, we seem to find perfectly logical reasons for putting off the hard decisions and actions, and doing what feels good and “natural.”

How do you rationalize it? What arguments allow you to reject good counsel? Let’s imagine that you are taking this post personally and want to argue with me that some decisions you recently made were just fine, even though they were shortcuts. From my experience, the rationalizations tend to follow a pattern. Do any of the following sound familiar?

1. “You don’t understand, it’s different for me.”

2. “Just one more time, then l will stop.”

3. “Who are you to judge me?”

4. “What’s the big deal? Everyone does it.”

5. “If I didn’t do it, someone else would have.”

6. “If I didn’t really need this, I wouldn’t have taken it.”

7. “I don’t have the time to do it right.”

I am also subject to rationalizing. We all are to some extent, because at the time we are doing it, our rationale seems logical. Knowing this, I discovered a pretty effective way to get beyond the expediency.  Before I was shipped off to Vietnam, I did a lot of reading about crimes of expediency committed in anger or fear by some of our troops there. So I asked myself, “what might I be tempted to do over there that I couldn’t live with if I return home?” The most likely would be the taking revenge on civilians for the deaths of my buddies.

So I made a list of what I would not do, even if ordered to or tempted to. This list represented the uncrossable line. I was exposed to most of the temptations I expected. But when anger or fear kicked in I was able to live out my commitment to stay on the narrow path, because I had laid it out ahead of time, giving me enough distance from the expedient and the emotional to stay on the right side of the uncrossable line.

Lest you think this is about me bragging (giving you a great excuse to ignore the counsel), it isn’t. It’s about the strategy: Doing the right things requires a prior commitment, a path you have thought about and committed to, so that when temptation comes, you know where your line is. Perhaps this is why I have never experienced PTSD symptoms from Vietnam–I was able to avoid doing what I couldn’t have lived with.

A plea on behalf of the hearing impaired.

In 1970, while in Quan Loi, Vietnam, I experienced a great miracle which both preserved my life and stole my future. Quan Loi was a forward firebase for American army artillery, a base carved out of a jungle of rubber trees by massive B52 bombing. Inside the perimeter of the base, many rubber trees still stood. It was beside one that the miracle occurred. The Vietcong would fire off mortars and occasionally, huge rockets at our base, then fade into the jungle or down into their tunnels while we were climbing out of bunkers or pulling our dead and wounded out of the rubble.

On this day, I was outside when a rocket exploded beside me–literally. These rockets were so large I could actually feel a pressure wave before it hit. Before I could articulate the thought “holy shit, something’s coming”, I felt what I could only describe as a giant hand pushing me to the ground, and then covering me, as the rocket hit and obliterated a rubber tree near me. The sound was muffled by whatever was covering me, but it was still incredibly loud. When I came to my senses, all that was left of the rubber tree was a smoking crater. My body was completely protected from the explosion and the shrapnel from the rocket and the tree.

I couldn’t process what had happened, but about 17 years later, when I read the Book of Daniel, and it described how an angel of the Lord protected Daniel from lions Daniel 6:24, and protected Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnacebook of Daniel , I finally understood. This did happen to me. But while my body was protected, I didn’t realize that my future was in some ways stolen. My hearing was permanently damaged, but the gradual deterioration was so subtle and insidious that my first conscious realization of hearing loss wasn’t until 15 years later. I was in a friend’s kitchen and my back was turned. She came and faced me and asked, “why are you ignoring me? I just asked you a question. You ignore questions a lot.” I really didn’t even hear the question, nor did I ever consciously ignore other questions. In that moment, the incident in Quan Loi came back to me, and the thought “I wonder how long I haven’t been hearing people.”

That is the insidious nature of hearing loss. How many people in your own life same suffering from the same malady? Here are some signs that someone you know is suffering from hearing loss–and might not even know it:

  1. When in a group he seems distracted or inattentive, and doesn’t participate much. If the cause is being unable to hear, he isn’t participating because he’s afraid to say or ask something inappropriate.
  2. An obvious sign is ignoring a question or answering the wrong question, especially when you aren’t face to face, or frequently asking you to repeat questions.
  3. Nodding of the head as if agreeing, but actually pretending to understand and follow what others are saying.
  4. Getting defensive or dismissive when the issue of hearing is brought up. For reasons I don’t understand, wearing hearing aids feels like advertising a disability and carries a stigma of being old, while wearing glasses bears none of that embarrassment, and is even a fashion statement.
  5. Withdrawing from relationships and avoidance of group situations, because of the fear of miscommunication.

I tend to be explicit about my disability with people I meet. Others are very reticent. But all of us hearing-impaired would appreciate your willingness to ask what accommodations you can make (like speaking louder or enunciating more clearly). Thanks for reading.